The Scanning China Project: Learning to live and work in China.

Vessels & Banners

These pictures were inspired by the time I spent in China during 2005 and 2006, and are part of the Scanning China Project. Vessels and Banners is a visual metaphor for the experience of learning to live and work in China and, more generally, represents the process of coming to know a culture different from one’s own.

About the Vessels

Ceramic vessels have been important to me since my early childhood in South Korea, where I saw ancient celadon excavated from new fields. Later, looking for pottery shards with my father in Arizona, a broken piece of clay emerging from the desert could evoke fantasies of discovery and deep connections with the past. Ceramics, physically embedded within the ground of a specific place, become tokens of trade and currency when removed from that space; and can travel continents and endure centuries. As both container and decorated surface, ceramic vessels embody the culture of the people who made them, and this physicality and process of transformation—from anonymous clay to artifact and then back to common earth—touches on history, art, science, and the shape of knowledge itself.

The vessels in these pictures—brush holders, rice bowls, teacups—were excavated from weekend flea markets in Beijing and Shanghai. The pictures were made by moving the ceramic across the glass of a flat-bed scanner as the scanning sensor was also moving. The ceramic appears warped because it drifted in and out of sync with the sensor during the scan. As I worked, the glass of the scanner became abraded and smudged by the ceramic surface of the vessels, causing the scratches and other texture visible in the pictures. There is no additional “digital” distortion added to the pictures, though in some pictures I’ve added fabric backgrounds which were scanned separately.

About the Banners

Hanging scrolls imprinted with text are an ancient part of Chinese culture, and we have parallel forms in Western culture as well. These segmented pictures are meant to evoke the process of getting under the surface of something we might think we already know. While the ostensible subject matter of each picture flirts with Western clichés about China, I hope that by breaking the surface into layers and then further separating it into individual hanging slices, a visual assembly process occurs. These aren’t ordinary pictures, and yet they are, really. Simple things and simple moments from my daily life in China—streets, bamboo, flowers, architectural details, fish ponds—we know these things, even in China. But I hope that the form of the banner precipitates a new experience of them.

About the interplay of Vessels and Banners

These two series were conceived together and are intended to inform each other. At once abstract and yet undeniably indexical, the flex and push of experience and interpretation is activated in real-time as the viewer absorbs the forms and textures. From picture to picture, and within the pictures, I want to provoke a dialog about how we know what we think we know.

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The Scanning China Project © Sean Justice 2009. Contact. Last updated: April 21, 2009.